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Do Aging Demographics Doom the TV Detective Show ?

While the endless CSI and Law and Order generic spinoff series may make it seem like the TV detective show is a good bet, the demographics listed in the Variety report tell a different story. Lately of course new launches of TV detective shows haven’t gone too well. Whether it’s Women’s Murder Club or Raines, the shows have fizzled and there’s a reason.

“Women’s Murder Club” clocked in as ABC’s oldest series demographically with a media age of 57. That’s practically Murder She Wrote numbers, itself a long running and high rated detective show on CBS that had to be booted off because its demographics were just too high. Women’s Murder Club to no one’s surprise has been canceled by ABC. But the TV detective story doesn’t quite end there.

NBC’s oldest demographic series is Monk, another TV detective show, ringing in at 58. Canterbury’s Law, a lawyer slash detective series, ringings in as FOX’s oldest skewing demographic at 55. It too was canceled. The pattern isn’t too hard to spot.

In 2003 CBS had a median viewer age of 52. Today it’s 54. No network wants to be the next CBS, yet at 50 ABC is almost there. And the TV detective series too often plays to the PBS Inspector Morse demographic, an older viewership that networks don’t really want anymore. And that’s bad news for TV detective shows.

The problem arises from cross demographic programming. TV networks killed the detective action series in favor of the detective investigative series because it rated better across gender lines. One hour series rate better with women than with women. Detective shows rated better with men. The sort of detective shows on television are an attempt to cater to both sides of the table and produce neutered detective shows that are more about relationships and autopsies than shooting the bad guy. And those are not the shows with a good lock on younger viewers who bore easily. And while detective shows skew to a female and older audience, the young males turn on the XBox 360 and explore Azeroth.

To get them back, networks need to revise their programming model radically and move away from a conservative watered down approach that results in TV shows that no one but grandma watches. If TV networks were less conservative in their programming strategy, paradoxically they would have more room to cater to a wider demographic of viewers, without constantly and futilely chasing after younger viewers.

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